Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward has twice placed “IRON” and “HEAD” on his eye black, a tribute to his father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, a former college and NFL running back who died of brain cancer.
Heyward says that his goal isn’t simply to honor his late father, but to show support for all cancer victims.
“A lot of people are struggling with cancer and that’s what my message was,” Heyward said Monday, via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s not just about me and my love for my father. There are a lot of people out there struggling. In a month when breast cancer is honored I think every type of cancer should be honored as well.”
As PFT reported on Sunday night, the NFL won’t suspend Heyward or prevent him from playing with the message on the eye strips. Instead, the $11,576 fine for a second offense will continue to be imposed until Heyward decides to stop.
Ultimately, he may stop after next Sunday’s game against the Chiefs — his team’s last game in October.
“I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes or upset the league office, but I want to continue to do it at least for this month,” Heyward said. “I would love to be able to [do it] this month and make an awareness for all types of cancer. I’m very sincere when I say I’m not trying to be someone who is a rebel against the cause or someone who is against everybody. I care about this league, but I also care about people who are struggling. I understand the struggles they go through. My dad went through that struggle, and I saw it every day.”
Heyward has a great point. Apart from the importance of supporting all cancer patients and their families, awareness becomes critical — especially as to cancers that through early detection can be cured quickly or avoided entirely. While the NFL’s work regarding breast cancer awareness is admirable, tales of life-saving prostate exams and colonoscopies could be just as valuable, especially considering the size of the male NFL audience and their stubbornness when it comes to the concept of inserting things into sensitive anatomical regions.
Short of a commitment by the league to embrace those causes, the next best thing is a controversy that allows for stories like this to be written. So regardless of the outcome of Heyward’s situation with the league, let’s be clear on this: (1) all men over 40 need an annual prostate exam; (2) everyone over 50 needs a periodic colonoscopy (some people under 50 need them, too); and (3) skin cancer screening is just as important and a lot less invasive.